Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington
Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane
P.O. Box 48, Spokane WA 99210
(509) 358-7340; FAX: (509) 358-7302
A day in the life of a priest in the Guatemala Highlands
Story and photo by Donna Connell, for the Inland Register
(From the March 15, 2012 edition of the Inland Register)
Father David Baronti baptizes an infant in the Church in Pacarel, Guatemala. (IR photo)
My husband and I recently returned from a two-week stay in the highlands in our Guatemala Mission. What a fantastic trip! We cannot tell you enough times how much we admire the hearty, religious, and thankful people of the Highlands.
On this trip, we decided to spend six nights in Santa Catarina Ixtahuacán, staying at the Marian Center, built with funds from donations of people in our diocese. What a great decision that was! We were able to spend more time with Father David Baronti (one of our own diocesan priests), meet more people, and travel to surrounding communities.
Father Baronti’s schedule is quite demanding. On Friday, he left before 6 a.m. to drive to a neighboring community, or caserio, for early Mass. He returned about 8:30 a.m. to pick us up for two more Masses in outlying caserios.
We drove 22 kilometers over rutty, curvy, dirt roads around mountains to get to the end of the road – about two-and-a-half hours. Then we walked (or fell) down a steep cliff, with dirt about three inches thick, to the church. More than 200 people in this caserio of Pacorel were waiting for us. (Father Baronti said they had probably been waiting for an hour.) All of the females, women down to babies, were dressed, as usual, in traditional, hand-woven cortes (skirts) and huipils (blouses), all brightly colored and embroidered, with additional colorful fabric supporting babies on their backs, and for covering their heads.
Mass was wonderful, with much music and singing. Young people played drums and a keyboard. Father Baronti blessed corn that people brought, which will be used for the planting in April. Much incense was used! They had no pews in their church, so many stood while some sat in plastic white chairs. Three babies were baptized. We met catechists and other families.
Prior to this Mass, we stopped on the way at a “refugee camp” for Mass. About 20 families have moved from Xea’albam to this very high altitude (about 9,000 feet) because the road to their other location was washed out with the rainstorms. Their housing is temporary tents. Mass was in a makeshift classroom with dirt floor and tin roof barely hanging on with the high winds. They were especially friendly and welcoming, and made sure we had a can of juice to drink after Mass. This community has no water, school, or church, and it is very cold. A few people wore light jackets and sweaters, but most women wore traditional skirts and open shoes or flats – no socks.
Guatemala Mission update: Ron and Donna Connell recently returned from a two-week visit to the Guatemala Mission, spending time with Father David Baronti, the Sisters, and Dr. Jose Miguel. The Connells will be showing new photos and talking about the latest news from the mission on Thursday, March 22, at 7 p.m. the Adult Center of St. Mary Parish, 304 S. Adams Rd. in Spokane Valley. The event is free and open to the public.
In both communities, prayer services, rosaries, and Communion services are held throughout the week, either in the church or in homes, and Mass is always a welcome occasion.
People are preparing their fields for planting now, so we saw many men and boys tilling their land with deep hoes. A few were still gathering dried corn cobs and cutting down the stalks. We saw women washing clothes in a stream and laying the clothes on the ground to dry. If they have water piped into their homes, they wash clothes in a large water basin, a pila, which may be their own or a community pila.
It was very dusty in Ixtahuacán in January, which reminded me of my hometown of Dusty, 17 miles from Colfax. It was quite dusty during the summers when I was a child, before the roads were paved. The people of Xea’albam thought it was very funny when Father David told them that I grew up near Dusty, and maybe they could rename their caserio Dusty.
After the two Masses, it was time to drive back out of the mountains, another two-and-a-half hours of bumpy, dusty, windy roads along the side of the mountains. The sun was setting and it was beyond beautiful. The patches of farmlands on the mountain sides reminded me of Palouse farms; however, each family only farms the equivalent of about one-fifth of an acre.
This type of day is repeated many times throughout the Highlands, by parish priests – mostly natives of the area, educated in the diocesan seminary which we, here in the Spokane diocese, support. Bishop de Villa, the Bishop of Sololá, Guatemala, is adamant that the priests go out to serve the people. Families arrive early, stand in long lines for Confession, bring babies to be baptized and seed corn to be blessed, and, often, stand throughout the entire Mass.
So, what was next for Father Baronti? On Saturday he was up and on the road before 6 a.m. for Mass in another outlying caserio.
(Connell chairs the diocese’s Guatemala Commission.)